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Biological science: from genes to species

This module explores a range of advanced topics in biological science from evolution to cell and molecular biology. You will learn about fundamental aspects of modern biology through the study of speciation and evolutionary processes, the origin of variation and genome evolution, the control of gene expression and cell behaviour, the life and death of cells, development and ageing. Building on Cell biology (S294) and The biology of survival (S295), this module will extend your understanding of these diverse topics in biology, as well as further developing your key research skills through a mix of onscreen practical and scientific literacy activities and ‘at home’ field-based investigations.

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OU qualifications are modular in structure; the credits from this undergraduate module could count towards a certificate of higher education, diploma of higher education, foundation degree or honours degree.

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Module

Module code
S317
Credits

Credits

  • Credits measure the student workload required for the successful completion of a module or qualification.
  • One credit represents about 10 hours of study over the duration of the course.
  • You are awarded credits after you have successfully completed a module.
  • For example, if you study a 60-credit module and successfully pass it, you will be awarded 60 credits.
60
Study level

Across the UK, there are two parallel frameworks for higher education qualifications, the Framework for Higher Education Qualifications in England, Northern Ireland and Wales (FHEQ) and the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework (SCQF). These define a hierarchy of levels and describe the achievement expected at each level. The information provided shows how OU module levels correspond to these frameworks.

OU SCQF FHEQ
3 10 6
Study method
Distance Learning
Module cost
See Module registration
Entry requirements
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What you will study

Biology encompasses all aspects of the study of living things from their ecology and behaviour, physiology and anatomy, through to their cell biology and molecular composition. You will learn about biological processes operating at different levels - molecular, cellular, organismal and species – and explore key concepts and research methodologies in these areas. The module is presented as a series of eight topics, alongside which is a closely-related Research Skills strand.

Topic 1: Species and Speciation
Here you will consider the enormous diversity of life on Earth and how it has arisen. You will learn about some of the difficulties in defining species as well as current thinking on the mechanisms of speciation.

Topic 2; Evolutionary Mechanisms
In this Topic you will study the mechanisms of evolution, examining the processes responsible for the diversity of living things. You will consider how variation in populations, which is necessary for evolution to occur, is studied and how it changes over time.

Topic 3: Origin of Variation
With the exception of some viruses, the genomes of all organisms on Earth are composed of DNA. Changes in DNA in individuals are the source of variation in a population, which allows evolution to occur. Here you will learn about how and why changes in DNA occur, and the effect of environmental influences on variation. You will also engage with case studies that illustrate how the molecular basis of variation is studied experimentally.

Topic 4: Genomes and genome evolution
The genomes of different species differ considerably in their content and structure. Considering that all life on Earth is believed to originate from a common ancestor which existed over 3.5 billion years ago, a great amount of genome evolution must have occurred to give rise to the diversity of present day species. In this topic, you will explore some of the mechanisms by which changes in genes and genomes occur and the methodology by which our current understanding of present day genome structure and content has been achieved. You will also revisit the subject of Topic 1, to consider how genomic changes can contribute towards speciation.

Topic 5: Gene expression and its control
Whilst the characteristics of an organism are determined by its genome, the expression of its component genes varies. Whether or not particular genes are expressed in a particular cell, and the level of their expression, are determined by a variety of control mechanisms. These mechanisms, which can operate over a range of time frames, and at different stages, produce the remarkably different cells that are present in multicellular organisms and determine the behaviour and properties of all cells. In this topic, you will learn about the various types and levels of control of gene expression – the subtle and the less subtle.

Topic 6: Controlling cell behaviour
All organisms, whether unicellular or multicellular, need to respond to their ever-changing environment in order to survive and flourish. In this topic, you will learn about some of the fundamentals of cell signalling - how cells detect and respond to physical changes and chemical cues occurring around and within them. To develop your understanding of common principles that apply to all cell signalling processes, you will explore, in some detail, a particular signalling pathway that operates in the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae.

Topic 7: Life and Death of the Cell
This topic takes a look at fascinating biological processes that occur at the beginning and end of the life of a cell. Cell death is a crucial aspect of life, and without cell death organisms would not develop or function correctly. Here you will focus largely on a form of programmed cell death known as apoptosis. At the other extreme, the subject of stem cells, the undifferentiated cells that are found in multicellular organisms and from which the many diverse cells types of the organism are derived, is explored. Stem cell biology and cell death processes are intricately associated with development in multicellular organisms, the subject of the next topic.

Topic 8: Development, morphogenesis and ageing
In this topic, you will move from considering processes purely at the cellular level to relate these processes to what happens at the level of the whole organism. You will begin by focussing on the mechanisms that orchestrate embryonic development in multicellular organisms, before turning to the factors that influence the life span of different organisms, and to those that result in their biological ageing. The topic finishes with a brief consideration of interactions between different organisms by discussing aspects of the relationship between host organisms and their microbiota (the microbes that live in and on them) and how this can influence ageing of the host.

Research Skills strand
You will be directed here at appropriate points in your study of the module topics, to undertake specific activities designed to develop your scientific skills through a mix of ‘at home’ field-based investigations and onscreen practical and scientific literacy activities. The study of organisms, in the field or in the laboratory, is an essential aspect of biological scientific inquiry and the role of what are known as ‘model organisms’ in biological research is a theme that is developed in this strand. The essential skills of reading and assessing published research papers and of extracting data from scientific databases will also be developed.

Vocational relevance

By studying this module you will develop your understanding of biology over a broad range of topics, as well as developing relevant practical skills in experimental investigation, critical reading and interpretation of scientific literature, digital literacy, scientific writing and the use of modern databases of genomic and other biological data.

Outside the UK

There are a number of practical investigations that may require students to obtain and use materials at home and the availability of some products may be a problem. 

Teaching and assessment

Support from your tutor

You will have a tutor who will help you with your studies and mark and comment on your written work, and whom you can ask for advice and guidance. Tuition will be delivered online and will include tutorials delivered specifically to your tutor group as well as sessions available to all students studying the module. The former will be delivered by your allocated tutor whereas the latter will be delivered by a series of tutors and other academics.

 Contact us if you want to know more about study with The Open University before you register.

Assessment

The assessment details for this module can be found in the facts box above.

You will be expected to submit your tutor-marked assignments (TMAs) online through the eTMA system unless there are some difficulties which prevent you from doing so. In these circumstances, you must negotiate with your tutor to get their agreement to submit your assignment on paper

Future availability

Biological science: from genes to species starts once a year – in October. This page describes the module that will start in October 2018. We expect it to start for the last time in October 2022.

Regulations

As a student of The Open University, you should be aware of the content of the academic regulations which are available on our Essential Documents website.

    Course work includes:

    6 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)
    Examination
    No residential school

    Course satisfaction survey

    See the satisfaction survey results for this course.


    Entry requirements

    This is an OU level 3 module and you need to have a good knowledge of biology, obtained through level 1 and 2 study with the OU, or with another higher education institution. Students who are appropriately prepared have the best chance of completing their studies successfully and get most enjoyment and satisfaction out of the module.

    You are expected to be familiar with the biology and chemistry taught in the discontinued module Exploring science (S104), and biology from Cell biology (S294) and The biology of survival (S295). You should also have knowledge of basic maths and principles of experimental design as provided by the discontinued module Investigative and mathematical skills in science (S141).

    We strongly recommend that you check whether or not your background and experience are sufficient to give you a sound basis on which to tackle this module, since we have found that students who are appropriately prepared have the best chance of completing their studies successfully and get the most enjoyment out of the module.

    The Science Faculty has produced an interactive program Are You Ready For S317? to help you to decide whether you already have the recommended background knowledge or experience to start the module or whether you need a little extra preparation.

    If you have any doubt about the suitability of the module, please speak to an adviser.

    Register

    Start End England fee Register
    06 Oct 2018 Jun 2019 £2928.00

    Registration closes 13/09/18 (places subject to availability)

    Register
    This module is expected to start for the last time in October 2022.

    Additional Costs

    Study costs

    There may be extra costs on top of the tuition fee, such as a laptop, travel to tutorials, set books and internet access.

    If you're on a low income you might be eligible for help with some of these costs after your module has started.

    Residential schools

    This module includes one or more optional residential schools. For each residential school you choose to attend, you must pay an additional charge to cover costs such as tuition, accommodation and meals (see the module details for more information). You’ll also have to pay for your own travel to and from the venues.

    Ways to pay for this module

    Open University Student Budget Account

    The Open University Student Budget Accounts Ltd (OUSBA) offers a convenient 'pay as you go' option to pay your OU fees, which is a secure, quick and easy way to pay. Please note that The Open University works exclusively with OUSBA and is not able to offer you credit facilities from any other provider. All credit is subject to status and proof that you can afford the repayments.

    You pay the OU through OUSBA in one of the following ways:

    • Register now, pay later – OUSBA pays your module fee direct to the OU. You then repay OUSBA interest-free and in full just before your module starts. 0% APR representative. This option could give you the extra time you may need to secure the funding to repay OUSBA.
    • Pay by instalments – OUSBA calculates your monthly fee and number of instalments based on the cost of the module you are studying. APR 5.1% representative.

    Joint loan applications

    If you feel you would be unable to obtain an OUSBA loan on your own due to credit history or affordability issues, OUSBA offers the option to apply for a joint loan application with a third party. For example, your husband, wife, partner, parent, sibling or friend. In such cases, OUSBA will be required to carry out additional affordability checks separately and/or collectively for both joint applicants who will be jointly and severally liable for loan repayments.

    As additional affordability checks are required when processing joint loan applications, unfortunately, an instant decision cannot be given. On average the processing time for a joint loan application is five working days from receipt of the required documentation.

    Read more about Open University Student Budget Accounts (OUSBA).  

    Employer sponsorship

    Studying with The Open University can boost your employability. OU courses are recognised and respected by employers for their excellence and the commitment they take to complete. They also value the skills that students learn and can apply in the workplace.

    More than one in ten OU students are sponsored by their employer, and over 30,000 employers have used the OU to develop staff so far. If the module you’ve chosen is geared towards your job or developing your career, you could approach your employer to see if they will sponsor you by paying some or all of the fees. 

    • Your employer just needs to complete a simple form to confirm how much they will be paying and we will invoice them.
    • You won’t need to get your employer to complete the form until after you’ve chosen your module.  

    Credit/debit card

    You can pay part or all of your tuition fees upfront with a debit or credit card when you register for each module. 

    We accept American Express, Maestro (UK only), Mastercard, Visa/Delta and Visa Electron. 

    Mixed payments

    We know that sometimes you may want to combine payment options. For example, you may wish to pay part of your tuition fee with a debit card and pay the remainder in instalments through an Open University Student Budget Account (OUSBA).


    For more information about combining payment options, speak to an adviser or book a call back at a time convenient to you.


    Please note: your permanent address/domicile will affect your fee status and therefore the fees you are charged and any financial support available to you. The fees and funding information provided here is valid for modules starting before 31 July 2019. Fees normally increase annually in line with inflation and the University's strategic approach to fees. 

    This information was provided on 21/07/2018.

    What's included

    This module does not have any printed material. All teaching and assessment materials are embedded within, or linked to from, the texts of the module, which are accessed via a dedicated website.

    There are eBook downloadable versions of the Module guide, all topics and the guide to the Research Skills strand.

     

    You will need

    A scientific calculator.

    Computing requirements

    A computing device with a browser and broadband internet access is required for this module.  Any modern browser will be suitable for most computer activities. Functionality may be limited on mobile devices.

    Any additional software will be provided, or is generally freely available. However, some activities may have more specific requirements. For this reason, you will need to be able to install and run additional software on a device that meets the requirements below.

    A desktop or laptop computer with either:

    • Windows 7 or higher
    • macOS 10.7 or higher

    The screen of the device must have a resolution of at least 1024 pixels horizontally and 768 pixels vertically.

    To participate in our online-discussion area you will need both a microphone and speakers/headphones. 

    Our Skills for OU study website has further information including computing skills for study, computer security, acquiring a computer and Microsoft software offers for students. 

    If you have a disability

    The OU strives to make all aspects of study accessible to everyone and this Accessibility Statement outlines what studying S317 involves. You should use this information to inform your study preparations and any discussions with us about how we can meet your needs.

    To find out more about what kind of support and adjustments might be available, contact us or visit our Overcoming barriers to study if you have a disability or health condition website.